Despite continuing federal investigations into the General Services Administration's awards of contracts to repair and maintain federal buildings, GSA in recent months has continued to pay private companies for maintenance work never done, according to a spot-check of some of the work by GSA auditors.
The auditors found that nearly one in five repair jobs checked since April had been paid for by GSA even though the full amount of goods or services had not been delivered.GSA spends about $5 billion a year to provide government workers with office space and supplies.
While the examples of shortchanging cited by the auditors didn't involve as much as the previously reported abuses being uncovered in the federal investigation, GSA officials expressed surprise that the practices continued in view of on going investigations of GSA maintenance work by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office here.
Referring to the findings, Vincent R. Alto, a former federal prosecutor appointed by GSA Administrator Jay Solomon to supervise GSA's investigations of the practices, said yesterday, "The arrogance of these people is incredible."
The auditors found for example, that in Houston GSA paid for two coats of paint when only one was applied. In Seattle, the agency paid for cleaning one-third more carpeting than existed in the area to be cleaned. In Richmond, the auditors found, GSA paid for carpeting that was not installed, an in Philadelphia the agency paid for door handles never installed the auditors said. These examples all involved government-owned or government-leased buildings.
Several of the Washington-area firms listed in the audit reporters as having been paid for work not performed are among those whose work has been under review since last fall by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office here as part of their broad investigation of GSA repair contracts.
One such firm Charles Q. Bainbridge in Annandale, was paid for applying 908 square feet of wallpaper in the Commerce Department building, although only 670 square feet were applied, the auditors found.
Another such firm, Paintrite Inc. in Arlington, was paid for applying two coats of paint in the James Forrestal Building at L'Enfant Plaza. But the auditors reported it was "highly questionable" that the second coat of paint ever was applied.
Bainbridge did not return telephone calls made to obtain comment.
Robert J. Miller, owner of Paintrite, said, "I don't know what they're talking about. Nobody has talked to me about it. As far as I know, the work was all right."
Miller said he was interviewed by the FBI about a month ago concerning other work but has not heard from investigators since that time.
The federal investigation has been finding that some GSA building managers certified that work had been performed when it had not been in return for cash payoffs and other gifts. Sources familiar with the investigation say that, in some instances, individual building managers are alleged by several witnesses to have been given as much as $250,000 each in payoffs over a period of two years.
The investigation recently broadened to include maintenance work done by private companies in U.S. Postal Service installations. While part of the government, the Postal Service operates and maintains its own buildings.
Investigators are finding that, just as at GSA, postal managers have been certifying that work was performed when it was not, often by the same companies under scrutiny at GSA, The Post has learned.
Alto has estimated the total loss to GSA each year from such stealing has been $86 million.
In reviewing maintenance contracts, the auditors found that GSA often failed to seek competitive bids even though they were required and often failed to obtain estimates of repair costs or to state exactly what was to be done and where in the contracts awarded.
In addition, the auditors said, the GSA employes who order maintenance work performed often certify that it has been done properly.
"This procedure presents an opportunity for false certification of receipt (of goods or services)," the auditors said.
The audits were requested in April by Solomon to determine if new procedures for tightening up on repair contracts were being followed. They covered work performed as recently as May.
Some of the audit findings were alluded to in June 22 testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs' federal spending subcommittee, headed by Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.). In those hearings, Howard R. Davia, director of GSA's office of audits, said the government was not obtaining "fair value" in its repair program.
Based on statements by GSA officials responsible for maintenance work in the Washington area, The Washington Post reported April 12 that GSA had revoked the authority of building managers to award contracts and had required that each contract be personally approved by James F. Steele, the $40,995-a-year commissioner of GSA's public building service in this area.
The story said all work coating $10,000 or more must now be approved by independent inspectors.
Asked about this, Steele said recently that a second layer of inspectors has since been imposed on the first to provide assurance that the government gets what it pays for.
In the Senate hearings, GSA Administrator Solomon said he is developing a long-range system for inspecting repair work and ensuring that the agency gets what it pays for.
Meanwhile, GSA is continuing to review prior repair contracts to determine which ones should be referred to the U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution.
John E. Adams, a civil engineer who was one of those conducting the reviewing, recently told The Post he was "Sickened" by the amount of waste he saw.
Adams' job was to compare the goods or services paid for with the amount actually received. He did this by measuring painting work or tile installed in the rooms in federal buildings where the work was supposed to have been performed.
In one building here, he said, a painting contractor had been paid for about 10 times more square feet of wall surface than existed in the area to be painted. At another, a contractor was paid $3,000 for painting a flag-pole, he said. In other buildings, he said, contractors were paid for maintenance work done by GSA employes.
Addresses of contractors listed on the contract documents listed on the contract documents sometimes turned out to be vacant lots, Adams said.
In these cases, investigators have found, GSA checks for work never performed were delivered personally by GSA employes involved in the abuses.
"It's so digusting, you want to sit down and cry," Adams said.
Adams said he suggested that GSA hire its own employes to do maintenance work rather than awarding contracts to private firms. That way, he said, the government would know how much work is being done.
However, he said he was told by his superiors that such a move would cost too much. "And, they're wasting all these millions of dollars," he said.
"The thing that frightens me," Adams said, "is everyone takes the easy way out."